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Battle of Lepanto (1571)

The Battle of Lepanto[?] occurred on October 7, 1571 between Ottoman naval forces and the combined naval power of the Pope, Spain, and Venice (with some minor contributions from Genoa, other Italian states, and the Knights of Malta). The European fleet was aptly commanded by Don John of Austria.

The battle was a crushing defeat for the Ottomans, who lost all but about 40 of their approximately 300 ships involved in the battle. The Battle of Lepanto was one of the most decisive naval defeats in the Mediterranean between the Battle of Actium (in 31 BC) and the Battle of the Nile during the Napoleonic wars.

During the course of the battle, the Ottoman commander's ship was boarded and the admiral was beheaded, against the wishes of Don John. However, when his head was displayed from the mast of the Spanish flagship it contributed greatly to destroying Turkish morale. The battle concluded around 4 pm.

The battle was the first major victory of any European army or navy against the Ottoman Empire and therefore it had a psychological importance. Despite the massive Turkish defeat, European disunity prevented the allied forces from pressing their victory or achieving a lasting supremacy over the Ottomans at this time. Ottoman Empire immediately began a massive fleet rebuilding effort and within 6 months had rebuilt their fleet, which quickly regained Ottoman supremacy. The defeat did not prevent the capture of Cyprus, either. However, Ottomans lost their control on seas especially on the western part of the Mediterranean Sea.

One of the more well-known participants in the battle was Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes, who was wounded and lost the use of his left hand.

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